This week in bigger pictures

  Monday 30th December 2013 week 132 Spain

    We can all thank Haddon Sundblom.

    It's done for another year. How was your Christmas? Good I hope. The one thing I can say about this gypsy lifestyle of ours, Christmas doesn’t come any cheaper!. I serious doubt I've spent £50 on the whole she-bang. Back in blighty I'd still be adding up the till receipt. I will admit however, that having not having had a Christmas now for three years, not in the traditional sense, I've come to realise I do miss it, much in the same way say an amputee might miss a limb, you know it's not there but you can still feel the itch.

    The Spanish just don't do Christmas like us. What they lack, apart from turkeys - they buy massive cured ham haunches instead- is the rampant manacle commercialism that a UK Christmas's is famous for. Here it's rare to see decoration in shops or on the streets and what you do see is very low key. Even rearer are Christmas trees. Fortunately you can get boxes of dates with camels on the lid, so all is not lost. The only familiar sight you do occasionally come across are small stuffed Santa Claus's hanging from buildings looking, if you ask me, much like they've been lynched.

    British Christmas traditions are one of history and pagan festival. They have little or nothing to do with the Little baby Jesus at all. The religious connection is one of politics. Christians were eager to convert us happy pagans. So a few hundred years ago the Holy Roman church, desperate to make Jesus a tad more believable to us heathens, hijacked one of our pagan winter festivals. So the date of the 25th was chosen to fit in with festivals celebrating the winter solstice. Prior to this it never occurred to them that they needed to celebrate his birthday. The Sun was being reborn, and so, therefore, was Christ. It's little more than a clever little PR job.

This was how we used to let out hair down.. bit of a laugh if you ask me. 

    Almost nothing about how we actually go about celebrating Christmas has anything to do with religion. None of the traditions, Christmas trees, the present giving, the feasting, carol singers and even Santa clause. We owe a debt of gratitude to a chap called Haddon Sundblom for Santa Claus or at least the way he looks. Haddon Sundblom worked for Coca-Cola in 1930 and in ad add campaign he depicted Santa Claus as a fat cheerful chap with a white beard and dressed in white and red, it stuck ever since. By the way Father Christmas is not the same chap at all. He was 'Sir Christmas' or 'Nowell' and it was he that encouraged adults to eat drink and make merry: hence 'merry Christmas'. They seem now to have merged into one.

    Previously I innocently thought that gift giving was linked to the three wise men, not a bit of it. Small gift where exchanged on New Year's Day. They were given to people to make them feel good at the year end. It was the Victorians which moved it to the 25th. Interestingly Queen Victoria, gave Prince Albert, a miniature portrait of herself as a seven year old girl. Seems a tad stingy coming from the women who owned an Empire and was certainly the riches women on the planet. The next year it got no better for the poor chap as she brought him a book of poetry. However he surprised her no-end with his latest piercing, the now famed Prince Albert.

    But for all it's madness I still enjoy it. For no other reason than it gave us The marvellous film: It's a wonderful life which, personifies the spirit of Christmas and no matter how far down in the dumps you slip, has the power to lift you up and make you feel jolly good about everything.

 

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 Tuesday 31st December 2013 week 132 Spain

    Time travel.

    Little point in jumping out of bed this morning. Not for the first time the camp site had no power. This is quite common here. I don't know if it goes beyond the camp site, I expect it does. Some evenings we are plunged into darkness three or four times. I find you just have be philosophical about it and have a supply of candles or torches handy. In the morning however it's a little more annoying. Hazel had switched on the heating on her way to the bathroom but nothing happened, so until the sun comes up it will stay chilly.

    So I snuggled down and drifted in and out of sleep. At one point I found myself in that twilight place neither awake nor asleep. Now I don't know about you but I get some of my best ideas at this time. (Or Daftest. Ed). I had a eureka moment. What if we are all looking at time travel the wrong way. What if, now remember this is just a blossoming theory and it's only, well, a few hours old so I dare say it will need a little polishing, we look at it in terms of consciousness. Let me try and explain. (Must you. Ed) Shush I'm on a roll.

    We all know time is a man made concept based on the 'historical period' it takes the earth to circumnavigate the Sun and arrive back at it's starting place. This we call a year, we then subdivide that. It's foundation is one of distance covered and the measurement it's taken to complete that journey. Simply put time is a way of measuring the periods or gaps between events. For example there’s now..............................and there's now. The pause between the 'nows' can be measured using time.

We were treated to a wonderful Flamenco performance.

    Now what if we think of time travel as a state of consciousness. Stay with me here. The simplest way I can explain this theory is thus: I went to bed at 11pm and woke at 8am. Nine hours had passed, but unlike say, waiting for Hazel to get ready to go out which can make an hour appear to move at a glacial speed, I wasn't conscious of the passage of time. I fell asleep, I woke. In a sense I moved through time. I moved into the future, albeit just the next day, without being aware of that passage of nine hours. So what if I went to bed and slept for a year?. I would go to bed in 2013 and wake in 2014, a year would have passed. To me it would only be the next moment but to everyone else a whole 8760 hours would have trudged past. I would effectively have moved a year into the future without being conscious of it.

    There was a remarkable story some years ago about a chap who, after an accident, became blind and deaf. Twenty years later through pioneering brain surgery he regained both his sight and hearing. When questioned about his impressions of today he said that it was amazing how modern and futuristic everything had become, even music. Now why I've just told you that I have no idea but I'm sure, somewhere, it has some relevance.

Moving backwards is even easier. You don't believe me do you? You want a practical demonstration. Thought you might. OK. For example: If I throw this orange I'm eating at the moment out the van door could I go back to the moment before I throw it out and stop myself. Well, yes, and I have, see. I’ve not thrown it, it's back in my hand. Now you're about to say: “Hang on Phil, you just didn’t throw it mate”. But how do you know? How do I even know. The fact it's not laying outside the van means I didn't throw it. But if it were laying there then, clearly, I wasn't able to go back and stop myself. Why that makes perfect sense to me I've no idea. I'll finish this before my head explodes, with what my father once told me. Son, he said. -I think he'd forgotten my name- If time travel were possible someone from the future would have come back and told us about it by now. Clever man my dad.

    (OK love, now go and have a lie down! Ed)

 

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  Wednesday 1st January 2014 week 132 Spain.

    Resolutions.

    Mornin. Could you do me a favour and not read this out quite so loud. Thanks, I appreciate it. Last night was a bit of a blur. The New years celebrations here are becoming legendary. Like everyone we do the whole countdown thing at midnight and then, an hour later, do it all again to coincide with the British celebrations. The bar owner puts on the large screen TV so we get to see Big Ben striking midnight at one in the morning our time. We danced, congerd, sang and drank our way into both of them.

    OK so it's 2014. Time to think afresh. Wipe the slate clean. Time for making new years resolutions. Most people seem to believe a news years resolution is just another name for a to-do list for the first week in Jan, well it's not, it's serious stuff. This religious tradition goes back thousands of years. It's thought the ancient Babylonians kicked it off. They, very oddly, made promises to their gods at the start of each year that they would return borrowed objects and pay their debts. So even back then if you loaned your Babylonian neighbour say a plough, there was no guarantee you'd see it again. I once asked to borrow a garden tool from a neighbour which, after an hours use, I remembered was actually mine! he'd borrowed it months earlier, which proves there’s nothing new under the Sun. The ancient Romans also began each year by making promises to their god Janus. And in Medieval times knights took to renewing their vow and their commitment to chivalry, so this goes back some way.


 

    The great thing about making a resolution, which is, for most, simply a promise to yourself, is that when you fail, you’ve just let yourself down. A recent study involving 3,000 Brits revealed that 88% of those who made a New Year resolution failed within days. So failure is as big a tradition as actually making the resolution in the first place. So never feel bad about not seeing a resolution through. Like everyone I've had a crack at making New Years resolutions. Here’s a few, along with some reasons why they didn't work out.

Lose a stone in weight. ( I achieved it but seem to have replaced it with another)

Exercise more. (It's obligatory you have to make this one)

Drink less alcohol. (While it always seems a good idea to make this one, I'm reminded that alcohol is a great preserver)

Quit smoking, (The only one I've succeeded in)

Think positive (I seriously doubt I've achieved that yet)

Laugh more often. (I made this when I was eight after my mum brought me a violin instead of the guitar for Christmas)

Save money. (The daftest of all)

Learn a foreign language. (Ah! the old perennial)

Never set my personal goals too high, That way I'm never a disappointment to myself.

Be less grumpy, (The older I get the harder this one becomes)

Be more optimistic (I knew this was going to be a non starter)

Be more proactive. (I simply wrote a to-do lists).

Try to stop imagining everyone is talking about my Paranoia.

    We wish all our family and friends and of course you dear reader a happy 2014.

 

 

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    Thursday 2nd January 2014 week 132 Spain

    Let me try and explain...

    I seem to be running foul of a few people just lately. Nothing odd in me receiving the odd fatwa or the occasional email posing that perennial old chestnut: do you actually know what your talking about mate? The questioners then normally set about putting me on the right path, their path. It seemingly doesn’t occur to them that others may have a different view. I've even been blamed, along with others, for the collapse of everything in Britain that was once warm and fuzzy. On more than one occasion being called a bleeding heart liberal do gooder which I see more as a compliment than an insult since the first one was almost certainly Jesus. What these people fail to see is that I'm just a regular bloke who likes nothing better than a sit down with a nice cup of tea, the mystical and restorative powers of a cup of tea are yet to be fully realised, but that's for another time.

    Anyway, it may surprise some to learn that I really do think before I open my gob and commit something to paper, sorry, to screen. A short while ago I accused the British aristocracy of being Racist and someone’s pulled me up on it. Racist! they said, sheer poppycock! He never used that expression. I've cleaned it up, they maybe children reading this, but a similar word to 'cock' was used so it's apt.

    It was Leo Tolstoy who first coined the word racist in 1937, in a book to describe people who agreed with the theory of Racism. Briefly, the theory of Racism believes you can divide the human race and rank them in order of superiority and that members of different races should be treated differently. Basically it's has no real meaning today as science agrees we are all of the same race, the human race. But back then British ruling classes considered you either Johnny foreigner, a heathen, a Hottentot or worse, a member of the working class. It's a matter of history not opinion.

    Today the definition of the word racist now includes discrimination or prejudice based on race. Not actually liking people from say, Tonga, doesn’t, in itself, make one a racist, just a knob. This is because it's not possible to dislike a nation, only individuals within it, at least not rationally and we don’t have a word for those people other than knob, racist doesn’t fit.

While we can all agree the KKK, Neo Nazis and white supremacist whose hatred is born out of fear and ignorance, are the worst kind of racist, it seems a tad unfair to lump all people together under that one dreadful heading. I say this because today the word racist is used to label anyone who mentions nationality in practically any context other than a positive one. And branding someone a racist for simply voicing their concerns over immigration doesn’t help. In fact it only adds to their frustration. In my life I can honestly say I've met very few real racist. I've met some that thought they were but they were just ignorant and scared. Today many people right across Europe have concerns about their futures. They believe unfettered immigration is threatening their jobs, homes but more importantly their very sense of national identity, in our case our Britishness. What’s important here is that people coming to our shores are not being objected to based on colour, ethnicity or nationality, in other words race, but out of concern that we are becoming over populated and less than British.

    The problem now is that the word racist is both used as a insult and to dismiss rational debate around the sensitive issues of immigration.

    Think that clears that up.

 

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 Friday 3rd January 2014 week 132 Spain

    What's on my mind?

    It's odd and a tad scary to think that for today’s youth, today, is going to be their 'good old days' in years to come. They will look back and grumble to their grandchildren that Britain, or the world, has gone to hell in a hand cart. “It wasn't like this in my day” they will tell their disinterested offspring. Which is the scary part since most of us more mature adults think that now. 'It's not like the good old days' We've all heard it said. Christ! some of us have even said it. I know I have.

    There was a safer time. A time you really could leave your front door open. Coppers walked the beat. Kids played outside and got up to all manner of merry japes, I know I did. (Me too!, scrumping and “knock down ginger”. Ed) We all marvelled at digital watches and Formica was what every housewife wanted in her kitchen. Everyone on our street was in the same boat financially, few had disposable incomes. If you did have money there really wasn't much to spend it on. And because of that, advertising wasn't yet an industry and we were not yet materialistic. The adverts you saw were for Omo, Pears soap, raincoats, cigarettes that were milder on your throat and adverts for ladies reinforced underwear which looked like something a bomb disposal expert might wear to safe guard his bits and bobs. We were all called shoppers, not consumers and the Joneses, those people we were once encouraged to keep up with, had yet to move in.

I was nearly mugged by this chap on the way to the showers.

    Now before you ask, no, I wasn't born in 1807. I was unluckily born just prior to the birth of the swinging sixties. Hot pants, mini skirts, psychedelia, the explosion in pop music, free love, pot, ban the bomb, hippies, the mini car, the first motorway all came in when I was about twelve. It's a little known fact that the sixties sexual revolution started because of the cold war. Teenagers, like many adults, believed Russia and the USA were on the brink of nuclear annihilation. -Interestingly referred to at the time as MAD, mutual assured destruction-. They came closest to it in 1962. I too was scared. Scared that Armageddon was just about to kick off and being so young I would miss out on all this free love action. By the time I was ready, the USSR and USA had come to an agreement and the world had moved onto avocado and burgundy bathroom suites and tubular furniture, hence the unlucky comment.

    One of the great benefits of that perod was that we knew so little about the outside world. There was something both charming and innocent about that. The information age was a life time away. Unlike today we were both blissful in our ignorance and free of the paranoia instilled by knowing stuff that none of us can do anything about. We actually trusted politicians to run the show. They were statesmen. They smoked pipes, looked embarrassed on TV and reminded us of our grandfathers. They seemed, therefore, irredeemably trustworthy. Unsurprisingly in a recent UK poll 55% described politicians as a 'joke'.

    So has life got any better during my lifetime?. I seriously doubt it. I remember, as a small boy, an aunt telling me that it was all so much better in her day. This from a women who had dodged Polio, Diphtheria and Rickets and half a dozen other fatal childhood illnesses and managed to survive two world wars! I also remember my Dad telling me he could take my mother to the pictures, have a fish and chip supper and have money left over for bus fare home all from two shillings and sixpence. Clearly then, this is where I get my fiscal prudence.

    When youngsters look back at today what will they remember with romantic nostalgic fondness? Not technology as that will only improve. I don't see anything. I think in fifty years they will remember a time when, perhaps, they had fewer problems and life was less complex, which, quite frankly, doesn’t bode well for the future.

    You all have a good weekend now.

 

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